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5 Novels that Put the ‘Urban’ in Urban Fantasy!

5 Novels that put the Urban in Urban Fantasy

Guest Post by Ruth Vincent

Today I’m really excited to welcome a new urban fantasy author, Ruth Vincent, to the blog! Her novel, Elixir, is out now and so far I’m quite enjoying it! If you’re a fan of urban fantasy, don’t miss this new series and these old favorites :D.

One of my favorite things about the urban fantasy genre is how the city can almost become a character in the story itself. When writing my first novel, Elixir, it was very important to me that the urban setting feel vivid and authentic. I’d always been unsatisfied by the way I saw New York City portrayed in movies, TV shows, and fiction – it never felt like my New York. My New York is both more brutal and more sublime than those sanitized metropolises. It is simultaneously a giddy promise of dreams fulfilled, and a dystopian reality of overpriced, roach-infested walk-up sublets. And yet I never wanted to stoop to the gratuitously dark city that has become a cliché in this genre, because we’re seeing the mean streets of New York through the eyes of an idealistic, fairy changeling narrator, who finds the quirks of the human society into which she’s been thrust fascinating, charming, and often wryly amusing.

If the city can be a character in an urban fantasy, I wanted it to be a complex one – one that defies easy categorization. The urban setting can be both the protagonist’s friend and foe. The city is neither good nor evil, it simply exists, in all its messy glory.

A setting is not enough to sustain a story, of course, and yet a richly textured, fully realized city can go a long way to creating a world that readers feel like they can inhabit. Here are five examples of cities in fantasy novels, both real and imagined, that are so fully realized reading feels like visiting:

  1. “Dorstaad” – Bronze Gods by A. A. Aguirre

Steampunk novels are always rich in aesthetic settings, but husband and wife writing team A.A. Aguirre make sure that the steam-powered gadgets never overwhelm the gorgeous and sophisticated world building. The mist shrouded city of Dorstaad in this alternate Victorian history feels a bit like Sherlock Holmes’ London – if Conan Doyle’s London was latent with magic. Like all great cities, it is not what it seems. Evil things lurk behind both the gritty industrial landscapes and the gilded drawing rooms of the aristocratic Houses, but the noir is always subtle, subdued, simmering beneath the surface – just like the exquisitely restrained sexual tension between the two main characters.

  1. “Prague” – Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Daughter of Smoke and BoneI’ve never been to Prague, but boy did reading this book make me want to go there! I’m not sure if the city is really as magical as it’s depicted in Taylor’s magic-infused alternate version of the famous European capital, but this is one of the gifts of good urban fantasy: it can distill a city down to its essence, make it more itself than in actuality.

“The streets of Prague were a fantasia scarcely touched by the twenty-first century – or the twentieth, or the nineteenth…. Gothic steeples stood ready to impale fallen angels… thugs wore Mozart wigs and pushed chamber music on the street corner…. the whole city seemed like a theater with unseen puppeteers crouched behind velvet.”

A reader definitely wants to be a tourist in Taylor’s Prague – to wander down its cobblestone streets, sit in its coffee houses, and especially visit the shop of Brimstone the Wishmonger.

  1. “London Below” – Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

There are plenty of urban fantasy cities you’d never want to visit, of course, and one of the most terrifying is Gaiman’s alternate London, “London Below,” which exists parallel to the London we know, and into which Gaiman’s unlucky hero falls through the cracks, into a shadowy underworld of subterranean labyrinths, talking rats, and anthropomorphized tube stations. Part of its shivery appeal is that most modern cities have had the magic sucked out of them, and Gaiman replaces that nightmarish terror. London Above may have transformed into a cold, steely metropolis populated by Pret A Mangers and banks, but London Below retains all the mystery, magic, and terror we associate with the great city, like a modern twist on the Dickensian villain.

  1. “Dhamsawaat” – Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

Cities don’t have to be Western cities, and Ahmed dispenses completely with the tired trope of setting urban fantasies in America or London. His fictional metropolis, inspired by the ancient Arabic world, is a refreshing change. It’s a setting that may be unfamiliar, and yet it is so richly described that we can experience it with all our senses. It helps that the reluctant hero, a portly aging doctor, truly loves this place, and he is our guide to both the city’s charms and its weaknesses:

I’ve wed all your streets, made your night air my wife. For he who tires of Dhamsawaat tires of life. Doctor Abdoula Makhslood, the last real ghul hunter in the great city of Dhamsawaat, sighed as he read these lines…. He often felt tired of life, but he was not quite done with Dhamsawaat.”

  1. “The Hollows” – The Hollows Series by Kim Harrison

One of the interesting facets of this beloved urban fantasy series, is that in many ways it’s suburban fantasy. Witch Rachel Morgan’s world isn’t the gritty noir of a major city– it’s the smaller, humbler urban center of Cincinnati. The series’ most humorous and tender moments often come from her supernatural characters interacting with the mundane world around them: demons waiting in line at the DMV, epic battles taking place in chain coffee-shops, pizza joints run by the vampire mob. Perhaps the best complement one can give to a fantasy series is that it feels absolutely real. Harrison’s genius lies in making the fantastical as familiar as our own hometown.

About the Author

Ruth Vincent spent a nomadic childhood moving across the USA, culminating in a hop across the pond to attend Oxford. But wherever she wanders, she remains ensconced within the fairy ring of her imagination. Ruth recently traded the gritty urban fantasy of NYC for the pastoral suburbs of Long Island, where she resides with her roguishly clever husband and a cockatoo who thinks she’s a dog.

Elixir is now out!

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© 2016, Anya. All rights reserved.

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